Talk 8, Talks with Ramana Maharshi
D: “Can anyone get any benefit by repeating sacred syllables (mantras)
picked up casually?
M.: “No. He must be competent and initiated in such mantras.” Maharshi
illustrated this by the following story: A King visited his Premier in
his residence. There he was told that the Premier was engaged in
repetition of sacred syllables (japa). The King waited for him and, on
meeting him, asked what the japa was. The Premier said that it was the
holiest of all, Gayatri. The King desired to be initiated by the
Premier. But the Premier confessed his inability to initiate him.
Therefore the King learned it from someone else, and meeting the
Minister later he repeated the Gayatri and wanted to know if it was
right. The Minister said that the mantra was correct, but it was not
proper for him to say it. When pressed for an explanation, the
Minister called to a page close by and ordered him to take hold of the
King. The order was not obeyed. The order was often repeated, and
still not obeyed. The King flew into a rage and ordered the same man
to hold the Minister, and it was immediately done. The Minister
laughed and said that the incident was the explanation required by the
King. “How?” asked the King. The Minister replied, “The order was the
same and the executor also, but the authority was different. When I
ordered, the effect was nil, whereas, when you ordered, there was
immediate effect. Similarly with mantras.”
This is true for mantras that need to be initiated. However, for mantras like Ram, Krishn, there is no need for initiation. This lecture (in Tamil) cites the scriptural sanskrit source that says no initiation is required for reciting Ram, Ram. I will try to find the source text online.
Further, I believe that all the stotras taken from the puranas can be recited by anyone.